AFC North: Calvin Johnson
During the Bengals' three-game winning streak, the offense was sizzling, averaging 33 points per game. During Cincinnati's two game losing streak, the offense has been sloppy.
There was the delay of game in the second half which turned a third-and-8 into a third-and-13. There were the two drops by tight end Jermaine Gresham. And there was the lag in between the first and second snaps at the end of the first half which ultimately cost the Bengals a chance at a field goal.
The biggest mistakes have been turnovers. The Bengals have given the ball away 14 times this season (nine interceptions and five fumbles), and teams have converted them into 48 points. That represents nearly 30 percent of the points allowed by Cincinnati this season.
"We're very disappointed in the last two games. We're better than that. We're a better offense than that," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth told the team's official website. "We've got to stop putting ourselves in situations where you have to make hero-type plays to try and win games. It has to be every guy putting it on their shoulders and carrying it on their back. The truth is, as much as this is a team game, it's an individual game. Each of us has to go out individually and make plays."
STAT THAT STICKS: 628 -- A.J. Green's receiving yards, which currently lead the NFL. He is on pace for 1,674 yards receiving this season. In comparison, Calvin Johnson had 1,681 yards receiving last season. His six touchdown catches rank second in the league.
OVERHEARD: "We have got to play nastier, we need to play tougher, we need to have more of a killer instinct than what we are playing with, and that’s what we need to have. We’re almost too nice at times and we’ve got to have more of a killer instinct, get going, and keep making plays, and keep scoring and keep stopping them and not have a hiccup, a sigh of a relaxation play.” -- Head coach Marvin Lewis on the Bengals losing two straight games.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Bengals (3-3) play at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3), who have lost all three of their games on the road this season.
It's going to be easy to convince you in this piece that A.J. Green is the NFL's next superstar. For one moment Sunday, the Bengals' wide receiver nearly made everyone believe he was a superhero.
Going after a pass thrown ahead of him, Green left his feet to make a fully extended, 14-yard catch against the Jaguars. It was much more than a leap. Green took flight. He was in the air so long that he had time to pull the ball back to his body with his right hand and extend his left arm to brace his fall.
“You think you’ve seen about everything A.J. can do,” quarterback Andy Dalton said, “and you’ve seen so much you don’t think twice about his ability, and then he’ll show you something new like that one.”
Through the first four games of the season, Green has soared above all the other receivers in the league. He has been more dominant than Calvin Johnson. He has been more explosive than Larry Fitzgerald. He has been more productive than Andre Johnson.
In only his second NFL season, Green is second in the league in receiving yards (428) and is one behind the league leaders with three touchdown catches. He is on pace to catch 108 passes for 1,712 yards and 12 touchdowns. The numbers are more impressive when you consider the defense's focus every game is to stop him.
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackBengals receiver A.J. Green, left, and QB Andy Dalton have formed a strong mutual admiration society.
Green has been the constant on an offense that has been beaten up (two starters on the offensive line are injured) and has proved to be unreliable. Dalton has had two interceptions returned for touchdowns and the usually dependable BenJarvus Green-Ellis has fumbled three times in two games. Meanwhile, Green has gone over 100 yards receiving in back-to-back games and has scored a touchdown each week in a three-game win streak.
"He’s clearly the player that they believe in the most on that offense," Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox said. "I think they realize that in order for them to be successful, they need to get the ball in his hands. I’m sure that’s in their game plan every week.”
The greatest challenge for the Bengals offensively is trying to find ways to get Green open. On the first play in Washington, the Bengals put Green in the slot in the Wildcat formation to get him matched up against a safety. The result: a 73-yard touchdown pass.
In most instances, Dalton just has to trust Green will come down with the ball when double-covered. There really is no errant pass when throwing to Green because of his great hands and willingness to lay out for throws. He has the size to get off press coverage, the moves in route running to shake off cornerbacks and the acceleration to get behind safeties. His 16 receptions of 30 yards or more since he entered the league in 2011 ranks first over that span, one more than Fitzgerald and Johnson, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
What separates Green from other great receivers is how he carries himself. He's Randy Moss without the baggage. Green has yet to demand the ball or belittle his quarterback. In fact, Green has been one of Dalton's biggest supporters.
"The thing about Andy is he doesn't care where the defenders are, he's going to put that ball where I can go make a play," Green said. "He's one of the best at that. The guy can be great, I'm telling you."
In reality, Green is one of the few receivers who doesn't rely on his quarterback. It's the other way around. Green has been the centerpiece of the Bengals' offense since he was drafted fourth overall in 2011 (quarterback Cam Newton, linebacker Von Miller and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus were selected before him).
Green became the first rookie wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin in 2003, catching 65 passes for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns, and he has used his first full offseason in the NFL to get better. He attended all of the offseason workouts and spent time with Fitzgerald to pick up some tips before training camp began.
This is why Ravens coach John Harbaugh called Green "maybe the best receiver in football" only days before the regular season began.
Green's production has been as jaw-dropping as some of his catches. His average yards receiving per game (78.2) is the fourth most by any player in his first two seasons since 1970. It's slightly better than Jerry Rice's average in his first two seasons (78.0 yards), according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It's crazy to compare Green to Rice after he has played 19 games. But Green has proved in the first four weeks that he's the best receiver in the game right now. And no one on the Bengals believes Green is going to fall from that spot anytime soon.
“He was a cut above most players in the league from the start,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He really was the most impressive rookie I’ve ever been around. Nothing A.J. does surprises the people who watch him every day, and we fully expected he would be even better this year. This is not a guy you worry about having a sophomore slump.”
If the Ravens secondary wants to reach an elite level, the defensive backs have to hold their own against the top receivers. Baltimore's 27-12 preseason loss to the Lions on Friday night showed once again that the secondary has a lot of room to improve.
The Ravens allowed Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson to catch five passes for 111 yards and one touchdown. And that was in less than one full half of work. That comes one week after Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones had six catches for 109 yards and one touchdown in a little over one quarter.
Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith, who are battling for a starting job, both took turns getting beat by Johnson. The Ravens' first defensive series of the second quarter began with Johnson running past Williams for a 57-yard catch and ended with Johnson leaping over Jimmy Smith for an 18-yard touchdown. Smith later held Johnson when the receiver went past him on the next drive.
Here are some other thoughts on the Ravens' second preseason game of the year:
- The Ravens continue to show a new look on offense. Baltimore is opening up the playbook with a no-huddle attack that spreads out defenses with three wide receivers. This is the second straight game for the Ravens' no-huddle offense.
- Joe Flacco played much better than his statistics indicate. He finished 7-of-12 for 79 yards, but his receivers dropped three passes. With Torrey Smith out with a sprained ankle, Flacco went to LaQuan Williams three times in the red zone and didn't connect one time.
- Undrafted rookie Justin Tucker continues to outshine Billy Cundiff in the kicker competition. Cundiff converted from 33 and 44 yards, but Tucker drew bigger cheers from the home crowd when he boomed a 50-yarder. Tucker later added a 45-yard field goal. Cundiff, though, had more distance on his kickoffs.
- The best battle of the night was Ravens right guard Marshal Yanda going against Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. There were many instances when they kept pushing and shoving after the whistle.
- The Ravens are still telling Bryant McKinnie that he has to earn back his starting job, keeping him on the second team. Baltimore started Michael Oher at left tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele on the right side. Oher hurt one drive when he was called for holding on second-and-goal from the 7-yard line.
- One of the worst plays in Ravens history has been the end-around to a wide receiver. It never worked with Mark Clayton or Donte Stallworth. But Baltimore finally had success when Jacoby Jones broke free for a 35-yard gain. That's 35 more yards than the Ravens ever gained on that play before.
- Courtney Upshaw, the team's top pick of the 2012 draft, remained on the second team while Albert McClellan started at outside linebacker. Upshaw didn't help his case with a rookie mistake. The Lions' first drive of the second quarter should have ended with a field goal, but Upshaw was called for offside on third-and-2 from the Baltimore 28-yard line. That led to the Johnson touchdown.
- It was another frustrating night for Sergio Kindle. His holding penalty negated a 55-yard kickoff return by Deonte Thompson late in the second quarter, and then Kindle left in the third quarter with a left shoulder stinger.
- It's hard to overlook undrafted rookie safety Omar Brown because he keeps making plays. His fumble recovery in the second half was his fourth turnover (three fumble recoveries and one interception) in two games.
BENGALS: Left guard Travelle Wharton, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason opener, has no doubts that he'll be able to come back in 2013 even though he'll be 32 next season. “I’m just going to attack this surgery as if I was a 21-22-year-old,” Wharton told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I just want to be healthy and attack this thing going into this rehab and surgery with an open mind and get through it." Wharton's cap number in the second year of his three-year deal is $3.375 million.
BROWNS: Despite coach Pat Shurmur repeatedly saying Mohamed Massaquoi sustained a concussion in the preseason opener, the Cleveland wide receiver contends he never developed a symptom and was removed from the game as a precautionary measure. Shurmur was upset when Massaquoi first contradicted his assessment on Twitter over the weekend. "Tweeting is a new-age thing," Massaquoi told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Pat's a little older, so he doesn't really understand it. But we're gonna keep certain things in house as far as Twitter goes. We're not gonna give any game plans or anything like that or give too many updates which may hinder something that we're trying to do. But Twitter's fun. Hopefully. I can get Pat to get [an account]."
RAVENS: After allowing Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones to produce 109 yards receiving in one quarter in the preseason opener, the Ravens get Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in their next game Friday. “The biggest thing is you have to forget it and go on,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, via the team's official website. “I wouldn’t say it’s all secondary. We need to put more pressure on the quarterback in those situations. It’s never one thing. You see a guy getting beat deep because that’s what you see.” Pees said he was optimistic that outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw (shoulder) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) will play against Detroit.
STEELERS: There apparently won't be a Round 3 in the training-camp fight between wide receiver Antonio Brown and cornerback Ike Taylor. After their second skirmish of camp, Brown said he and Taylor went to breakfast on their day off and "ironed out our differences." The players never revealed what led to their on-field confrontations. "Can't say what stemmed from what," Brown told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's camp. We've been here for two weeks now. Guys are getting aggressive and competing against each other. What's important is we're on the same team, and we go to bat for each other. I root for him just as he roots for me on Sundays."
With few words and many hours of hard work, Green is primed to take that next step and join the elite wide receivers in this league. He just doesn't need a reality show to announce it. Or his own news network.
Green out-leaped and outran defenders to put up better rookie numbers than Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, and he did so without a full offseason. Now, as the Bengals conclude their spring workouts this week, he's watching film to improve his game. He's talking (well, it's more like listening) to coaches about refining his route running. He's even going to work out with Fitzgerald next month to pick up some pointers.
There's no diva qualities with Green. It's all about desire and dedication. That's a scary combination considering he has everything you want in a playmaking wide receiver. Speed, check. Size, check. Athleticism and aggressiveness, check and check. Work ethic, a big check.
"He has tremendous ability and he never says a word," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "Every time he watches film, he envisions himself getting better. He envisions himself doing it better than he did it the last time. That’s the key element of him. There’s not a bit of satisfaction in what he’s doing."
Green's debut was extremely impressive. The fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft led all NFL rookies with 65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns. His 11 catches of 35 yards or more were the most in the league and the most by an NFL rookie since Minnesota’s Randy Moss had 14 in 1998. As a result, Green became the first rookie wide receiver to make the Pro Bowl since Anquan Boldin in 2003.
His encore would be scintillating if he follows the path of Johnson and Fitzgerald. In their second seasons, Fitzgerald caught 103 passes for 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns while Johnson produced 79 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those are realistic numbers for Green in 2012.
When talking about where he ranks in the NFL, Green simply says he'll let his play do the talking. Fortunately, his teammates and coaches are more than happy to talk about Green, too.
"He’s by far the best receiver I’ve guarded," Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said.
Does he expect Green's name to be mentioned with the likes of the elite receivers this year? "His name should be up there already," Jones said. "All you have to do is watch him."
Lewis even referred to Green as the best receiver in the NFL on Tuesday, before he quickly qualified it by saying "one of the best."
The moment that defined Green last season was a leaping catch for a 51-yard gain in the final minute that set up the winning field goal over the Cleveland Browns. His clutch play as a rookie shows his importance in the offense. It's not about the number of catches. It's about the significance of them.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, 44 of Green's 65 catches (68 percent) came when the score was within seven points. That ranked 10th among all wide receivers last season.
"When the game is on the line, I want to be the go-to guy," Green said. "I feel like that separates the good from the great receivers."
Part of what separates the good from the great players is their influence on teammates. With veterans Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell gone, Green has become the clear leader of a wide receiver group that averages 2.2 years of experience.
As you would expect from his low-key personality, Green is a leader by example by being the first one in every drill and running it at full speed. According to the Bengals' official website, the receivers say: Whatever A.J. does is exactly what you want to do.
This represents the most drastic difference between Green, the team's current No. 1 receiver, and Ochocinco, the team's all-time leading receiver.
Ochocinco has been described by his former Bengals teammates as a performer who never "shepherded" teammates.
"A.J. is the opposite," offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "Not only is he super talented, but it means a lot to him to be an example [to teammates]. I think he takes that to heart."
While Green is now a leader, that doesn't mean he has stopped learning. The emphasis of this offseason has been to grow as a player.
He is becoming more patient in his route running (he acknowledged he ran most routes at 100 miles per hour last season), which should generate more big plays. He is also learning all three wide receiver spots (split end, flanker and slot), which will allow him to move all over the field and make it more difficult for defenses to double him all the time.
“A.J. is one of those guys who is so gifted athletically, and you find ways to get him the ball," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "Whether it’s early on in the game or the end or in crunch time, you just try and find ways to get him the ball. Once he’s got it, he can do a lot with it. He’s just that kind of receiver."
The recent rush of wide receiver signings gives Pittsburgh some parameters for a long-term deal with restricted free agent Mike Wallace. I'm not talking about the $132 million MegaDeal given to the Lions' Calvin Johnson. Let's throw that one out, because even Wallace can admit he's not in that class.
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireMike Wallace's statistics compare favorably to receivers DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Vincent Jackson, who all recently agreed to new contracts.
Let's start with the 25-year-old receivers: Wallace, Garcon and DeSean Jackson. In Wallace's past two seasons, he's averaged 76.5 yards receiving and scored 18 touchdowns. He also has produced 44 catches of 20 or more yards, and 17 of 40 or more yards.
Wallace's numbers in every one of those categories beat Garcon and Jackson during that two-year period. Jackson has averaged 69.5 yards receiving and scored 10 touchdowns. Garcon has recorded 57.7 yards receiving and produced 16 catches of 20 more more yards.
These stats might be different if DeSean Jackson were catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger and if Garcon had Peyton Manning as his quarterback last season. Still, it's hard to argue against Wallace being the most promising young receiver in the NFL. His receiving yards (3,206) and touchdowns (24) both rank as the second-most by an NFL receiver in his first three seasons.
Of course, this assumes that no team will pursue Wallace as a restricted free agent and that the Steelers want to keep their third-round pick from 2009. "We want Mike to finish his career with the Steelers," general manager Kevin Colbert told reporters at the NFL combine last month. "We think he's only scratched the surface of what he can do."
Wallace, who received a first-round tender by the Steelers this offseason, deserves a deal that exceeds the ones given to DeSean Jackson (five years, maximum value of $51 million, including $15 million guaranteed) and Garcon (five years, $42.5 million, including $20.5 million guaranteed). The true measure of the contracts come in the payouts of the first two seasons with Jackson ($19 million) and Garcon ($19.5 million).
With those two deals being the starting point, what should be the ceiling? Just look at the contract signed by Vincent Jackson. Wanting to make over the team for new coach Greg Schiano and having the cap room to do so, the Buccaneers forked over a five-year, $55.5 million deal that includes $26 million guaranteed. Jackson, 29, will make $26 million in his first two seasons in Tampa.
The Buccaneers went above market price to land the top free-agent wide receiver, but you can't fault Wallace for trying to get a similar contract, because their 2011 statistics were so similar. Wallace had 72 catches for 1,193 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Jackson had 60 catches for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns.
I say a deal between the contracts of these receivers is a fair one. Let's see how it plays out.
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireCincinnati's Jermaine Gresham watches the scoreboard replay as his touchdown catch is reviewed in the second half against Baltimore.
How big was that reversal? The Bengals would've only needed a field goal to tie the game on the final drive instead of a touchdown. Cincinnati moved the ball to the Ravens' 7-yard line with under a minute left and quarterback Andy Dalton had to go to the end zone. The Bengals eventually lost, 31-24, to the Ravens.
It's a rule that needs to be changed, but probably won't. My eyes saw a touchdown. Common sense says it's a touchdown. Gresham crossed the plane of the goal line with ball in hand. The NFL rule book says otherwise. The reason: he didn't have control of the ball for what seemed like seconds after he reached the end zone.
"When the receiver went to the ground, he had the ball in his right hand, the ball touched the ground and his hand came off he ball by about that much," Winter said, holding his fingers apart by an inch. "He then re-grasped it and brought it in."
It's a silly rule. It's right up there with the Tuck Rule. So let me get this straight: the ground can't cause a fumble but it can cause an incompletion?
Here's the reaction from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis: "He broke the plane with the ball outside the end zone and then crossed the end zone with the ball and possession. So, I would think it would be a touchdown."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he agreed with the rule even before it benefited his team Sunday. "I think what you want to do with the officials is you want to draw a bright line: catch or no catch," Harbaugh said. "All the players know now, when you go to the ground, you have to come up with the ball in both hands. Basically, you have to hand the ball to the official."
The officials weren't at fault. It's actually the NFL competition committee -- and not Gresham -- who really dropped the ball. The league had a chance to revise the rule after all the attention that came from Johnson's catch ... I mean no catch. But the NFL kept the rule intact, much to the dismay of the Bengals.
Johnson can out-jump nearly every defender and pull down the pass with his strong hands. Wallace can outrun nearly every defender and turn short slants into big gains.
While many would call Johnson the best because of his torrid touchdown pace, ESPN Insider KC Joyner sides with Wallace, calling him "the heavyweight champion of NFL receivers."
Here's an excerpt from the piece:
It's one thing to simply subscribe to the numbers and players must also pass the eye test, but these totals show Wallace as superior thus far in short, medium, bomb, vertical, stretch vertical, yards after catch and overall YPA categories. If he's not dominant in one, he's consistently better in all.
Not only that, Wallace has 82 more total yards than Johnson despite having 12 fewer targets.
So is the best wide receiver Wallace? Johnson? Or someone else?
1. Bengals attendance: The team followed up the smallest crowd for a home opener at Paul Brown Stadium with the smallest crowd (41,142) in the 12-year history of the place. That's over 20,000 empty seats in each of the first two home games of the season. Sure, this is the fans' way of protesting owner Mike Brown and the constant losing. But all this young team can see is a lack of support.
2. Steelers run defense: The NFL's top run defense from a year ago has plummeted to No. 22. In the Steelers' two losses, the defense has given up 170 yards rushing to the Ravens and 180 yards on the ground to the Texans. After allowing just one 100-yard rusher in a 50-game stretch, Pittsburgh has allowed two in the past four games. Has anyone seen inside linebackers James Farrior or Lawrence Timmons lately?
3. Browns secondary: This vastly improved group flopped in its first test against a proven quarterback. Cleveland gave up 194 yards passing and three touchdown passes to Matt Hasselbeck -- and that was in the first half alone. Safety T.J. Ward didn't cover Titans tight end Craig Stevens on a 12-yard touchdown, and safety Usama Young took a bad angle at tight end Jared Cook on an 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run. To make matters worse, cornerback Joe Haden has a sprained knee.
AP Photo/Tony TribbleCincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green already has 312 yards receiving this season.
2. Ravens pass rush: Baltimore has recorded 21 quarterback hits over the past two games because of its creative and risky blitzes. This pressure on quarterbacks has led to four defensive touchdowns the past two weeks, including a team-record three Sunday night against the Jets. This is a drastic turnaround from last season, when the Ravens had a franchise-low 27 sacks.
3.Bengals defense: For the first time since 1983, the Bengals' defense sits atop the NFL rankings. Cincinnati has six new starters from a defense that finished 15th in 2010. The Bengals held the NFL's highest-scoring offense to 13 points (one touchdown was scored off an interception return) on Sunday and kept the Bills 158 yards below their season average.
Here are a pair of storylines for each AFC North team:
- Will the Ravens improve the offense line? Baltimore allowed six sacks last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. Three were against starting tackles Michael Oher and Oniel Cousins. The Ravens moved Cousins to right guard and will start rookie Jah Reid at right tackle against Kansas City. Reid is a raw prospect trying to learn on the fly. We will find out where he stands in his first NFL start.
- This game marks the Ravens debut of wide receiver Lee Evans. The veteran deep threat was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills. Evans will be the starter opposite Anquan Boldin. Evans is the speedy receiver Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has lacked the past several years. The pair will look to build chemistry in this game.
- Can Cleveland second-year quarterback Colt McCoy continue his momentum? McCoy had a near-perfect preseason debut last week against the Green Bay Packers. He was 9-of-10 for 135 yards and a touchdown. McCoy also led the offense to two touchdown drives. Detroit should offer a stern test. The Lions' defense looked stout in last week’s 34-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Another fun matchup to watch will be Browns corner Joe Haden against Lions Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson. Both are two of the best, young players at their respective positions. Johnson beat Bengals cornerback Leon Hall for a touchdown last week. Haden will try to prevent "Megatron" from having a big first half tonight.
After weeks of debating with myself, I've finally decided the defensive line prospects are so good in this draft that it would be smarter for the Browns to snag one in the first round. It doesn't matter if it's the best defensive end or defensive tackle because Cleveland needs both.
Paul Abell/US PresswireWhile drafting Georgia's A.J. Green would bolster Cleveland's offense, the Browns need help on the D-line to compete in the AFC North.
Like most people, I agree that Georgia receiver A.J. Green is a tremendous prospect. But he's not better than Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. The aforementioned players are elite NFL receivers and they all played for losing teams in 2010. My point is the receiver position is not very important in the NFL hierarchy. You need to be good in other areas first, and that's why I'm usually steadfast in not drafting a receiver in the top 10.
Meanwhile, the defensive line is very important. Games are won and lost in the trenches, and if you noticed, teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers take offensive and defensive linemen nearly every year: Haloti Ngata, Michael Oher, Terrell Suggs, Maurkice Pouncey and Ziggy Hood just to name a few. These are non-sexy draft picks that turn out to be huge when it's time to play football.
Cleveland needs to start learning from the dominant teams in its division. President Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert drafted a lot of skill players last year (Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Colt McCoy, Montario Hardesty), and it's time to add some meat to the NFL's 27th-ranked run defense. The Ravens (Ray Rice), Steelers (Rashard Mendenhall) and Cincinnati Bengals (Cedric Benson) all had 1,000-yard rushers in 2010.
The Browns still have to address their passing game. Although chances decrease after the first round, that doesn't mean the Browns cannot find good receivers. Studs such as Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace, Miami's Brandon Marshall and New Orleans’ Marques Colston were all receivers drafted in the third round or lower. The Browns just need to do their homework.
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireSteelers receiver Mike Wallace finished with 60 receptions for 1,257 yards last season.
The AFC North was the only division that did not get a single player on this list. That brings us to this question: Is Mike Wallace a top 10 receiver?
Wallace, who caught 60 passes for 1,257 yards in 2010, finished No. 12 in the voting. I did not vote for him in the top 10.
As I explained in the Power Rankings piece, Wallace has just one year as a starter and still has to improve in certain areas before he's considered an elite receiver. His route-running on short and intermediate passes is getting better, but it's nowhere near some of the best at his position.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin use to label Wallace a "one-trick pony," and after this season Tomlin said at the Super Bowl that Wallace now has "one and a half tricks." I think that's an accurate assessment from Pittsburgh's coach of where Wallace stands right now.
All of the receivers in the top 10 -- led by Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans, Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions -- are more polished than Wallace. But once Wallace adds more routine plays to his deep speed, which could happen as early as this upcoming season, he could be among the NFL's top receivers.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The NFL draft is where major decisions are made to either build a team into a contender or lead down a path of destruction.
The AFC North provides a mix of teams with good track records in the draft (Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers), poor draft histories (Cincinnati Bengals) and a new regime trying to make its mark for the first time (Cleveland Browns).
With the draft just a few days away, let's look at the riskiest moves each team will consider.
Needs: WR, LB, C
Biggest risk: Drafting a receiver with the No. 5 pick
|Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images|
|The Browns could consider Texas tech receiver Michael Crabtree with their pick at No. 5.|
Why: Taking a receiver in the top 10 is one of the riskiest moves a franchise could make. Teams at the top of the draft usually have multiple needs, and receivers can only make a significant impact once everything else -- quarterback, offensive line, running game -- is in place. For example, look no further than the Detroit Lions, who bypassed a ton of talent at other positions to take receivers in the top 10 in 2003 (Charles Rogers), 2004 (Roy Williams), 2005 (Mike Williams) and 2007 (Calvin Johnson). The Lions got absolutely nowhere and eventually hit rock bottom in 2008 by becoming the first 0-16 team in NFL history.
The reward: Cleveland would fill a big need by taking a receiver with the fifth pick. The Browns have backed themselves into a corner with a recent run of roster moves and bad luck this offseason. Since the start of free agency, the Browns released veteran receiver Joe Jurevicius, ran into legal trouble with starter Donte' Stallworth, and currently are involved in trade talks about former Pro Bowl receiver Braylon Edwards. If Edwards is moved by the end of the week, as many expect, the Browns would be down to David Patten and Josh Cribbs as their starting receivers. If the Browns overlook other needs such as linebacker and defensive linemen, the target could be Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, whom some feel is the best pure athlete in the draft.
Chances of risk: Decent
Needs: OT, C, RB
Biggest risk: Not getting a left tackle
|G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images|
|Protecting Carson Palmer is something the Bengals need to consider heading into the draft.|
Why: Bengals franchise quarterback Carson Palmer needs better protection if Cincinnati is to have any success in 2009. Palmer's 2008 campaign ended after only four games with a season-ending elbow injury. He was pretty much battered from the beginning, as evident by the broken nose he also suffered in the preseason. This isn't to put all the blame on current left tackle Levi Jones. But when your entire offensive line struggles and you're picking sixth overall, left tackle and protecting the quarterback's blindside is the biggest priority. Luckily for the Bengals there are plenty of good tackles in this draft, including Baylor's Jason Smith, Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Alabama's Andre Smith. So not only would it be risky, it would be surprising if Cincinnati bypasses all of them in the first round.
Reward: Although the risk far outweighs the reward, the Bengals also have a chance to land a very good defensive player at No. 6. Cincinnati drafted defense in the first round for four consecutive years, and that unit finally is playing solidly. The Bengals finished last season ranked 12th in total defense. But some holes remain in terms of rushing the passer and getting stronger in the middle of the defensive line. Cincinnati signed Tank Johnson, who could be a short-term solution. But Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji has the potential to dominate the middle for years to come. The Bengals' lack of pass rush also brings up the possibility of choosing Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo over the most pressing need of offensive tackle.
Chances: Below average
Needs: OL, CB, DL
Biggest risk: Not taking a receiver
Why: It is Baltimore's only glaring need entering the draft. The Ravens were a few plays away from participating in last season's Super Bowl. Even with the loss of several key free agents, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome plugged enough holes at center and cornerback where this team should be back in contention in 2009. What Newsome and the Ravens didn't address is the receiver position. Behind starters Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason, there isn't much depth or proven talent. And the team would like to utilize the deep-ball capability of second-year quarterback Joe Flacco more often in 2009. Not giving him another weapon in the first round could hold back the growth of the offense.
Reward: By passing over a receiver, the Ravens could simply go with the top player on their draft board. At No. 26, Baltimore should have a choice of good prospects at several positions. There could be some good cornerbacks, linebackers and possibly the top tight end prospect, Brandon Pettigrew. The Ravens aren't in a similar situation to last year when they had to draft a quarterback. There may be other good receivers for Baltimore to target in the second round or later if another position player happens to catch Newsome's eye early.
Chances of risk: Average
Needs: OL, CB, WR
Biggest risk: Ignoring offensive line
Why: It's no secret that the Steelers also have a track record of taking the best available players. But that practice has put them in a current bind where they need quality depth at offensive line. For years, the Steelers ignored taking offensive linemen high in the draft. The last player taken at that position in the first two rounds was former guard Kendall Simmons in 2002. By 2008, Pittsburgh was struggling to consistently run the football. Despite winning a Super Bowl, the need cannot be ignored any longer. Expect the Steelers to bring in help early this weekend in order to get back to the team's physical, smashmouth style of offense.
Reward: Similar to the Ravens, Pittsburgh is not a team with many needs, so it has the luxury of going elsewhere in the first round. For instance, cornerback depth also is important for the Steelers. Therefore if the right corner falls to Pittsburgh with the final pick of the first round, it would be understandable to go in that direction as long as the offensive line isn't completely ignored on the first day of the draft.
Chances of risk: Average